A mom checking her toddler's temperature.
Due to a smaller ear structure, toddlers are more likely to get an ear infection.

How to Prevent an Ear Infection in Toddlers

Five out of every six toddlers will have an ear infection before they turn 3 years old. This is frequently due to the fact that toddlers and young children have smaller eustachian tubes. With a smaller structure, germs and bacteria can easily pass from the throat to the ear, causing pain and other discomforts. So, this is why it is good for parents to know how to prevent an ear infection in toddlers.

In this article, we outline the symptoms of an ear infection in toddlers, as well as how you can treat an ear infection and prevent them from happening in the first place.

Ear Infection Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms that your child may have an ear infection:

  • Pulling or tugging at their ears
  • Crying or irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fever
  • Fluid or pus coming from the ear
  • Balance issues
  • Difficulty hearing or responding to sounds
  • Headache
  • Low or loss of appetite

Typically, an ear infection in toddlers begins as a cold or another upper respiratory infection. If bacteria is present in the back of the throat, it may move into the middle ear of your toddler. This may result in the above symptoms.

Treating Your Child’s Ear Infection

As a parent, it hurts to see your child in pain. Yet, sometimes, a wait-and-see approach is best when it comes to ear infections. Many times, these types of infections improve all on their own within a 48-hour period.

This type of approach is frequently recommended if your child is 6 to 23 months old and has pain in one ear that lasts less than two days, or if your child is 24 months and up and has pain in one or two ears that last less than two days. If a fever above 102F or 39C happens, visit your doctor or seek out immediate medical attention.

Antibiotics and Ear Drops

Using ear drops or antibiotics may help decrease the infection and corresponding symptoms, especially in the initial 24 to 48 hours. However, as a parent, you want to ensure you do not use this approach too often since bacteria in the body can build up resistance to certain antibiotics. This may result in frequent ear infections, as well as other infections.

Pain Medication

Over-the-counter pain medication, such as Tylenol or Advil, may also help your child manage the pain. In these cases, follow the instructions outlined by your doctor. Furthermore, always follow the directions on the label for proper dosages and usage.

Fluid Drainage

For children with repetitive ear infections, your doctor may recommend draining the fluid from the ear. This procedure is called a myringotomy. A surgeon creates a small hole in the eardrum, allowing the fluid to be suctioned out of the ear. A tube is then placed in this tiny opening to help remove further built-up fluid. Typically, this tube is left in for six months or a year.

Preventing Ear Infections

While it is not possible to entirely stop all ear infections from occurring, you can reduce your child’s risk and lower the chances of them happening.

Surprisingly, children who use pacifiers or drink from a bottle lying down may experience more ear infections. Daycare centers also expose your toddler to various germs and bacteria. Lastly, air quality or pollution may impact how often your toddler gets an ear infection. For example, second-hand smoke may result in a higher frequency of ear infections in your toddler.

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Generally, keeping up to date with your child’s immunizations and keeping them from coming in contact with second-hand smoke can greatly reduce your toddler’s chances of getting an ear infection. It’s also important to instill regular hand-washing habits in your children from a young age.

Interestingly, children who nurse for 12 or more months tend to have fewer ear infections than other children. If breastfeeding is not an option, ensure you provide your child the bottle from an upright position.

Continued Monitoring

If your toddler experiences frequent ear infections, keep track of when they occur and how often. Sometimes, seasonal allergies may play a part. In this case, you may notice your toddler experiences ear infections more often in the spring and fall months. At your child’s next doctor’s appointment, discuss your and your toddler’s options, and ensure your doctor stays up to date on the latest frequency.

Many children outgrow frequent ear infections. If your toddler is experiencing one of many ear infections, that may be a sign that it is time for your child to visit your doctor. However, a couple of ear infections as a toddler are entirely normal and usually nothing to worry about.